A Travellerspoint blog



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Another couple of hours on a fast train saw me arrive in Sighisoara, a town in heartland Transylvania.

It was well after dark when I arrived, but that didn't stop me from just dumping my stuff at the hostel and going for a wander. It didn't take long and I found a wonderful wee cafe, Cafe Julius; old skool blues playing on the sound track, good coffee (another two coffee moment), a tasty omelette, interesting looking people engaged in intense discussions, a nice space to sit.

The town itself is fairly nondescript with a fairly low key main street:
although I found its banks quite interesting:
and it did have a rather nice church:

I did pop in to take a look; it took me a wee while to work out that the group gathered in the centre of the church was gathered around a body in a coffin - I retired discreetly.

But I was not there for the town; I wanted to look at the Citadel, this hilltop fortress that sits above Sighisoara, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site I have been to. In the day time it was not quite so spectacular:
but as I was walking up through these ramparts, maybe a bit after 8 at night, and then through the homes within the Citadel (166 families still live there, along with a bunch of guest houses, hotels, bars and even a YHA):
I was thinking that this is the coolest place on earth, at least of the places I've been to. So, I decided to have dinner up there, had a very nice paprika and pork dish with dumplings and a Cuic, a particularly nice Romanian beer.

I'm obviously not very observant, because when I went back up the next day, I realised that I had dined in the house next door to that of someone a few may have heard of - Vlad the Impaler, or Count Dracula. This is his house, where he was born:
I had to go in and have lunch, one of the worst meals I have ever had (a paper thin pork shop and cold chips - old Vlad would have had the cook beheaded, and he would have been right to do so):

Here is his church, well the one that is about 50 metres from his house:

Other random images from the Citadel (by the time I found the perfect location for an external shot, it was too dark for me to get a good one - stupid 4:30 darkness!):

After my lunch, I had pretty much exhausted what the place had to offer. Curiosity did get the better of me when I saw a hole in the wall and a few steps - it turned out I had quite a climb in front of me, to a church which was well above the Citadel. Going back down into the Citadel, I decided it was beer o'clock (it was New Year's Eve, after all) so went in to the YHA, which had a very pleasant bar and finished off Irvine Welsh's Filth about a cop who is disintegrating without even realising it (and being attacked by a tapeworm that is more capable of a coherent sentence and feeling than he is, very odd).

I was really looking forward to seeing what Sighisoara would have to offer in terms of a New Year's Eve celebration. Turns out that they do things a bit different here; by about 6:00 p.m., EVERYTHING was closed, all the bars, all the cafes, all the restaurants, even the pizza joints. I did see signs of activity in some, so poked my head in, only to see platters of food being laid out in set places and to be told it was "reserved". So, I had two or three fruitless circuits of the town before I gave up, and went to the "non-stop" - basically a 24 hour convenience store (ironically, closing at 10:00) and got myself some snack food and headed back to the hostel. There was a definite air of anticipation in town - I could see people people moving as if they had places to go, but I didn't know what was up.

So, I spent my New Year's Eve sitting in the hostel, starting in on the strange genius of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano and wishing I was in Mexico. There was a bit of a party happening in the hostel, but no-one speaking English, all rather more loud and drunk then me, so I didn't really feel part of it. Besides, I had a train to catch; I'd booked the 00:45 sleeper to Budapest. Around 11:00 I headed to the railway station, which turned out to be a good move - at midnight there was a 15 minute firework show, along with lots of smaller (I'm presuming private) efforts, and the railway station was a grand place to see it all. So, that was a nice way for Romania to say goodbye to me.

Posted by NZBarry 15:03 Archived in Romania Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)


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It was a lovely mid-afternoon journey by fast train up into the Carpathian Mountains to visit Braşov, the so-called capital of Transylvania.

When I arrived at my hostel, there was a conversation going on at reception as to how cold it was going to get - a drop overnight to -15 and then a recovery to around -10 for the day. There was a kiwi in my room; she decided it was simply too cold and would be spending her whole time wrapped up in bed.

Most of the city is pretty unremarkable (unless you think tyre repair shops doubling as bars are remarkable), but the old city is fantastic. My first port of call was for some much needed coffee, but on the way I got distracted by the great old buildings and the narrow passages between (through?) them:

The first place I found was the local branch of Cafe Turabo, Romania's answer to Starbucks - the differences being that it has class and good coffee (oh, and booze and good cake). It was so cold it was definitely a two coffee moment, although people were still outside ice-skating:

The town square featured a huge glittering Christmas tree, far too bright for my camera (skills) to be able to resolve into a nice shot. Beside the square is Braşov's most famous landmark, the Black Church (so called because there were attempts to set fire to it in some war (it is made of stone, people!):

I was getting hungry by this point. Being a ski resort, there were heaps of coffee shops, bars, pizza joints, French bistros, Chinese restaurants, donut shops and the like but I was determined to have a traditional Romanian dinner. It was a long, cold walk but I eventually found an underground taverna that promised authentic Romanian food. It had very few takers:
and to be honest the food really was unremarkable, although the pickled red cabbage was tasty, and it was warm and they had good beer.

Althoough I had a train to catch in the mid afternoon, I thought I might go for a wee excursion. First, I was distracted by the sight of this cemetary, just beside my hostel, which seemed just a little wrong:

But my excursion was to Bran, which involved taking a bus out to the bus station, waiting in the freezing cold till the bus driver showed up from wherever, then being crammed onto his rickety old bus with about 100 others wanting to go to Bran. The reason? This:

Yes, a castle, one that on some accounts was occupied by Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula, although evrything I have read furiously denies that saying that, at best, he might have walked past, or attacked it maybe. Still, it is a castle, so I went in and had a good look round:
Queen Maria's room:

Small dining area:

Thoroughfare (the thing that really surprised me about the castle was that, despite its size, its rooms were quite small, and it had fairly narrow passages and even narrower and generally curly steps going off in various directions)
as well as a secret passage leading off from a cupboard

Main living area:
Dining room:
Big castle, tiny door!

Outside the castle grounds, there was quite a big market, mainly selling souvenirs:

Posted by NZBarry 15:11 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

More Bucharest

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My trip around the National Art Gallery had me feeling a little overwhelmed, so I ducked out for refreshments before tackling the European Gallery, which is in a seperate wing of the former Palace. This, to be honest, did not occupy me for long; I recognised few of the artists and the selection of works seemed to cover pretty standard topics. They claimed around 3000 works - I was in and out in an hour or so, perfecting my "art gallery walk". I did like Breughel's Four Seasons, and particularly enjoyed Summer. Everyone is hard at work, harvesting and carrying on various agrararian activities, all except for this one fellow; he had a large pitcher of (I suspect) wine to his mouth, and he wasn't working for nobody!

Just past the Russian church, I'd spotted this extremely swanky looking restaurant with lots of poshly dressed people enjoying a late lunch; I decided to go in and lower the tone somewhat, and had myself a very nice cake with an average coffee, sitting beside a couple I am convinced was some sort of mafia bloke with his dame, they just had the look (we get good experience in Dunedin outing such people).

I decided I had to get a move on, because I was quite keen to see what destruction Ceauşescu had wrought on the city, and had only one more night in town. As I wandered down from Revolution Square, I noticed what seemed to be a fair number of good, serious bookshops – all closed for the holidays so I couldn’t go in and wander around. Not that it would have made any difference; all the books seemed to be in Romanian.

Ceauşescu is notorious for (among other things) tearing down a four kilometre long strip of fine buildings and turning it into an ugly monstrous monument to his own ego and to communism. Have to say, it seemed quite nice to me, far better than, say, most of Athens. There was an ice skating competition going on in Piata Unirii, with Bulgarian radio DJ’s sounding no less inane than their kiwi counterparts, but a good sized crowd was having a lot of fun. And the boulevard in from the Piata to the Parliament had been closed and set up as a street market.DSC_0460.jpg

I was seduced by the smell of meat cooking on charcoal, and found a couple of jovial fellows cooking up some long, juicy sausages. I had to wash that down with a beer; curiously, after it came out of the fridge, it just got colder. I guess that’s why they list ice cream on the menus over here as a hot dish.

I’d been watching several stalls cook something that had me very curious. Basically, they rolled dough out in a strip, then spiraled it around something the diameter of a wine bottle, then cooked it, rotisserie style, over charcoal. When I discovered that they then rolled it in sugar, I had to have one. Other people I saw buy them put them in a bag and took them away, so I am not sure how they’re supposed to be eaten, maybe you stuff ice cream inside them or something. Me, I just chewed away at mine as I walked up the street. Enquiries have revealed that it is actually a Hungarian dish, called Kürtös Kalács (came in to Romania when it took over Transylvania from Hungary), and there is even a wee You-tube guide to making them.

His plan was to make this boulevard slightly bigger than the Champs Elysees. There's talk around about how terrible it is, but so long as you don't mind a lot of concrete, he could have done a lot worse:

I do wonder though if he'd be disturbed that people might actually be having fun on his parade. Now the thing that people seem to really object to is Ceauşescu's palace, which after he was killed off and replaced by a more democratic form of government became the legislature (second biggest in the world [“it is even bigger than ours” said a couple of American guys in my hostel]), saying that it too is just a monument to his ego. But I quite like it.

As if it wasn't big enough, he also had government offices built in a crescent to face the palace

Directly beside it is the rather less well-tended Romanian Academy

Three last random images as I went wandering towards the back of the palace from my hostel:

Posted by NZBarry 14:37 Archived in Romania Comments (0)


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I did not want to get the sort of news I’d had in Athens about full trains, so had organized my ticket to Bucharest back in Sofia. Well, sort of. I had about six different staff in the Rila ticket agency helping me, but they could not sell me a ticket from Veliko Tûrnovo to Bucharest. Yes, there is a train that connects both places “but it is a Turkish train, we do not handle it”. They told me I’d have to catch a local train to a major junction town where the train from Sofia to Bucharest went through.

That kind of made sense, but when I got to Veliko Tûrnovo I learned that that was not the full story. The Turkish train did indeed go through, but when it got to the nearby big station, the Sofia train became attached to it. My helpful person in the hostel was able to arrange for me to get on this train coming from Turkey in VT. I hopped into a carriage and, curiously enough, it was the very carriage I had been booked into all along. Either that or the train people simply did not care; I had the carriage almost to myself, entirely so from the Romanian border. Very Bulgarian, apparently. Here’s the Danube as we cross it.
I took quite a few photos from the train but they were not very successful:

Bucharest is another place with a bad rep, like Sofia. Again, I lapped it up and would have happily stayed much longer. Where else can you wake up in your hostel and see this
parked across the road? Admittedly, it was part of the military museum
but still pretty cool.

Going in search of dinner my first night there, I found a very nice mid-range bar/restaurant called the Harbour and amused myself by trying to work out what the people around me were there for and what they were saying. Apart from one pair of Americans, they were all obviously locals. In the area around me, I decided that there was a fairly new couple to my right, a young fellow (maybe a student) treating his dad to dinner, another family group and then this intriguing group of four off to my left, two women and two men, in their thirties but (I decided) not couples, possibly academics. Maybe they were just talking about the latest sports scores, who was breaking up/sneaking around with/cheating on whom, what was happening on the Romanian answer to Shortland Street but their conversation had a nice mixture of vivacity and gravity. My interest must have been detected; when I left, the women waved.

Perhaps that’s what had me off guard, but I was intercepted a bit later on the street by a woman, with questions I have often been asked in other countries (particularly India): “where you from?”; “how long you been travelling?”; “you married?”, “you travel alone?”; “you like coffee?”; “maybe we find coffee shop, yes?”. In India, these questions always came from men, and always involved a scam, but I hadn’t come across anything like this here, so wasn’t thinking. Basically, she robbed me, picked my pocket and fled! Luckily I got to keep the wallet and everything but the cash in it, but I’d been silly and not taken the Euros out once I left Greece and they were no good to me. So, a bit of a sting.

All the reports I had read about Bucharest was that it was a wreck, that the old buildings had been taken down and replaced with crap. I have to say there was still a satisfying number of old buildings around, and even the new buildings were far better than Athens. This sort of thing
seemed fairly common and around the former Palace were some truly wonderful buildings, such as the Roman Atheneum (a concert hall),
the nearby University
and this.

To be sure, this
is odd but then there is the Palace itself, so large I could not get it in a shot:

It has been turned into an Art Gallery, one of the best I have ever been in. I started with the collection of Greek portable icons – religious images painted onto wood maybe an inch thick, dating back to the 1400’s and still incredibly bright and fresh, which for me was their most significant feature. Then there was a sequence of religious paintings from a little later on, mid 17th century, by a fellow called Theodoros Poulakis which again impressed by with their vibrant colours. Of course, in another section of the gallery, they had loads of religious work by Romanians but by the time I got to them, I was a little jaded. I did like that they had quite a few altars still intact, from the 16th century, so I could see a lot of these icons in their original usage, as parts of the altar. One 17th Bucharest church altarpiece, largely made of gold, had about 50 seperate icons. There was also a collection of frescoes i.e. things put on the outside of churches. Apparently this was not normal here until they came under attack by the Ottomans, who sought to supress Christianity - I kind of like that by putting up some frescoes, they were giving the Ottomans the finger, after a fashion.

Another huge part of the collection was tracing the relationship between the French and the Romanians - the French (Napoleon III in particular) were very helpful in getting Romania back on its feet in 1859 (and thus giving the French a nice foothold in Eastern Europe). So we had Romanian artists honouring French subjects, French artists portraying Romania and then Romanians who went to France and painted there. The English descriptions seemed to peter out at points, but luckily I could still read the French accounts of the paintings, but sometimes they'd be missing and I'd have to read Romanian; I found that I could! One artist stood out for me, a fellow called Theodor Aman. They had a lot of his work, the first I noticed was a huge painting, I think 20 metres wide and 8 high, of one of the battles of the Crimean War. Oddly enough, there was a sign talking about early war photography and the claim that the first came from this war (in the 1850's) but there are no actual photographs.

Up on the top floor, they had an exhibition of Romanian modern art, with lots and lots of work by Theodor Aman, most of them of social scenes, scenes of Romanian life. In the last section, they went all modernist and cubist. I did find one piece that had me go back for another look or two, by Victor Brauner, called "Passivité courtoise"

Posted by NZBarry 17:19 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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